Tata may Mean “So long” in Britain, but it Means “Hello Wheels,” in India

Tata Nano

The May 23, 2011 edition of the Christian Science Monitor features an entire 14-page section on the world’s rising middle-class population. This is a good thing in terms of short-term improvements in quality of life for those who benefit from the largesse. But think of the consequences.

India’s middle class is larger than the entire population of the U.S.A. But, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies intended to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, by 2050 about 30 percent of the global middle class will live in India. More than 20 percent will be in China. In other words more than half of the world’s middle class will be located in just those two countries. So what?

Here’s what. The United States, right now, uses about a quarter of the Earth’s fossil fuels. But we make up less than one in 20 of all the planet’s Earthlings. And we are desperate for more atmosphere-choking, species-threatening, and water-polluting fossil fuels. Yet, automobile manufacturers are practically tripping over themselves to get their share of the Indian rupee, Chinese yuan, and Brazilian real.

China is already the world’s biggest auto market. Within 10 years it is likely to have a car market twice the size of the American market. Yow!

India’s Tata Motors is producing the Tata Nano (as in really small) that sells for about $3,000. Okay, so it’s had a few problems like cars bursting into flames and reliability issues, but Tata is no nano company; it’s big and it’s not likely to go the way of the Yugo. It already owns Jaguar and Land Rover. China’s Geely owns Saab.

So let’s say that the electric Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the cars of the future, along with hybrids. While we are conserving fuel used by each vehicle, the demand for cars, trucks and everything in between is liable to skyrocket. Likely result: demand for contaminating, environmentally destructive fuels continues to rise.

Some Americans kid themselves into thinking that because they have bought a hybrid Toyota Highlander or Chevy Tahoe SUV, or a Lexus LS 600h, they are doing the  Earth and their pocketbooks (does anyone actually use “pocketbook” anymore?) a large favor. So many hybrids are not worth the gas they’re guzzling, either in terms of purchase price or environmental impact.

If we are to truly save this planet, both in terms of fuel consumption, environmental impact, demands on governments (think of the needs for roads, railroads, and airports), and mental health (think of the time spent sitting in rush hour traffic), we must stop ourselves from reproducing at current rates. We cannot afford to wait until human population levels off – as demographers project – at the end of this century.

Things are bad enough already at seven billion humans. Leveling off at 10 billion should make us think twice before making more children. While the Earth is heating up it would be very cool for America to lead the way, both by example and by influencing other nations.

All the political talk is seems to be about what kind of national debt we will be saddling future generations with. That’s small potatoes compared with the environmental and lifestyle deficits we are rushing into headlong. It’s more than any debt we could fix with economic reforms.

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